If you are new to baseball, perhaps having taken a curious glance at the recent World Series, one of the key decisions you face is picking which MLB team you should support. It’s unlikely that you can follow one of the more established ways of deciding which team is for you, such as selecting your home town team or following family tradition, so what should you do? Have no fear; the BaseballGB Team Picker is here.
Joe and I had an idea several months ago to come up with a fun system in which we could rank all thirty teams in terms of their current appeal to a British newcomer to the sport. We didn’t want to arrive at the final positions simply by throwing our own personal favourites together. We wanted a system based on actual data that could be updated each year and could be the source of plenty of discussion/argument, both in terms of the final standings and the methods used to create them.
So, we’ve put together what we think are the key considerations for a British sports fan when it comes to picking a team and have rolled them into five categories. From there, we’ve searched for data that we could use for all of the categories to hopefully make it as impartial as possible. For all thirty MLB teams, we’ve awarded a score out of twenty for each of the five categories. The teams with the highest scores overall are the best candidates for a British fan.
Here are the five categories:
Roots and tradition
Why is it important to a British fan? History matters to Brits; our rich history is one of the defining characteristics of our nation. So a team with a long history should be appealing, but we also have to take into account one of the aspects of North American sports that is less attractive: franchises. A British fan should value how long a team has been playing in its current location first and foremost, while years spent in previous locations should count for less.
How did we rate this? We looked at the history of each franchise and gave out points using the following equation: one point for every six years in the current location, one point for every nine years in the location before that, and one point for every twelve years in the location before that. As with all the categories, once we had ranked the teams we then gave out scores from twenty down to five. The minimum of five in this case is to recognise the fact that a new(ish) team also holds some appeal.
Why is it important to a British fan? If there’s one thing Brits love, it’s an underdog. Teams who can buy success generally fail to buy their way into the affections of many people (Chelsea being a good example from football). It almost takes the fun out of any success that is achieved because it was expected that they would win anyway. The real excitement comes when an unfancied team rises up, takes on the big boys and wins the day.
How did we rate this? To be an underdog you need to have been starved of recent success and to not to have a big payroll. Each team started with twenty points. For recent success, we took a weighted average of regular-season wins over the past three years (2008 counted for four-ninths of the average, 2007 three-ninths, and 2006 two-ninths) and then penalized teams for each win over sixty-seven (the Nationals got a bonus point here as they had a weighted average of 66; the Angels received the biggest penalty, with a weighted average of 95).
For payroll, we again took a weighted average over the past three years, but this time based on total salary for the opening-day roster plus the disabled list (again, 2008 counted for four-ninths of the average, 2007 three-ninths, and 2006 two-ninths). We penalized teams for each dollar spent over $45,000,000 and awarded bonuses for those under this budget (the Marlins did best out of the bonuses here). No prizes for guessing who got the most penalty points!
Big spenders were penalized more heavily than big winners, and the range of scores once the maths had been done was five to twenty.
Hope for the future
Why is it important to a British fan? Jumping on to the bandwagon of an already successful team might not be the best idea, but you still want to support a team that has some good young talent and a chance to provide a bit of excitement over the next few years. So, when a Brit chooses his or her team, they should look for one that has some potential to compete over the next few years.
How did we rate this? There were two factors that we wanted to include: 1) prospects and 2) players who will be under contract for at least the next two years. For the prospects side, we simply took the Baseball America top 100 list for 2008 and gave teams two points for every player of theirs in the top 50 and one point for every player from 51 onwards. For established players, we used the recently published Elias rankings as our guide. A team received three points for every Type A ‘free agent’ classified player under contract for at least the next two years and one point for every Type B player.
Following from afar
Why is it important to a British fan? Primarily, British fans will be supporting their team from the U.K., so an important factor is how easy it is to follow their games. Due to the time difference, day games in the States take place at a convenient hour during the evening in Britain, as opposed to night games when first pitch can be at 01.00 or even 03.00 in the morning. A British fan should therefore value a team that plays a significant number of day games, particularly during the working week.
How did we rate this? We measured this category simply by adding up the amount of day games each team played in the 2008 season during the working week.
Road trip prospects
Why is it important to a British fan? Swapping teams (without good reason) is generally frowned upon, so once you’ve picked your team you should normally stick by them. Consequently, a Brit may want to consider what a team’s home is like in terms of being a good tourist destination for a future road trip to the States.
How did we rate this? The scoring was not based on personal preference but instead on an objective measure of tourist popularity. We used 2007 rankings for cities and states from the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries’ “Overseas Visitation Estimates for U.S. States, Cities, and Census Regions” (published May 2008).
Owing to proximity from the perspective of tourism, we used Los Angeles for Anaheim, San Francisco for Oakland, Miami for Miami Beach, Tampa for St Petersburg, and Dallas/Fort Worth for Arlington. Toronto (which was obviously not covered in a US list) was added in manually, second to New York City, based on several sources on tourist numbers. Once we had state and city rankings, we used the figures to assign scores between five and nineteen (Joe has been to New York, and says it was good but not worth a twenty); the city had double the weight of the state in the calculation. This category could be made a lot more sophisticated but it works for now.
The results for our first attempt at a Team Picker will be revealed over the next five days, with the third placed team announced tomorrow, the second placed team on Wednesday, the top team on Thursday and then an overall breakdown on Saturday.
We’ve already started thinking about ways in which the system could be improved and the scores for the ‘Hope for the future’ category could change quite a bit over the next few months as free agents link up with new teams. So, we intend to publish a new set of rankings in March next year, just before the 2009 season gets under way. Feel free to add any comments as the week progresses on ways in which we might be able to improve the system.